When you step back and really look at the songs and sayings of our childhood, it leaves you scratching your head. They can actually be a little misleading and even disturbing.
For example, we have all heard the childhood saying
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
I don’t know about your experience, but that has not been true for me. Someone has suggested we rewrite that statement to say “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can shatter my soul.”
Our words have incredible power. Every one of us could go back to significant moments in our lives when somebody’s words deeply inspired and breathed life into us. And we could go back to other moments where somebody’s words have deeply cut and wounded us. The words in our past echo in our present and they continue to shape our lives today. And the words that we speak to others shape their lives.
Your words can…
Affirm and encourage
Divide a family
Build someone’s self-esteem
Tear down a person’s self-esteem
Work people into a frenzy
"The tongue has the power of life and death..." Proverbs 18:21a (NIV)
So, let me give you some practical encouragement for using your words wisely.
1. Use words to bless and speak life into others.
"Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body." Proverbs 16:24 (NLT)
It doesn’t cost you a dime to do this, and this isn’t about “spiritual gifts”. This is about sensitivity and love and kindness.
"Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up." Proverbs 12:25 (NLT)
Just recently I was on a leader’s retreat with a good mixture of older men and younger men. At the end of the retreat one of the young guys, about 30, looked at one of the older guys who was in their early 60’s. And with tears in his eyes, he said “Your words of affirmation have meant more than I can tell you. I so wish I had that when I was growing up.”
"At the baptism of Jesus, a voice out of heaven came and said… This is my dearly loved son, who brings me great joy…." Matthew 3:17 (NLT)
The biggest enemy of blessing people with your words is not meanness or selfishness. It is HURRY.
Let me encourage you that when you speak words of blessing, be as specific as possible. So, here are some ways that you could speak blessing to people this week…
- A birthday card
- A hand written note
- An encouraging e-mail
- Face to face conversation
- A text message with a short prayer
2. Learn the art of good delivery
In baseball, what is the difference between a good pitcher and a great pitcher? DELIVERY.
To use another analogy, the most dangerous part of any airplane flight is the landing. And just before the airplane lands, they will talk about the plane being “on approach”. The approach is critical for a successful landing. Your approach with words is critical to successful relationships.
"Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach; the right words on a person's lips bring satisfaction." Proverbs 18:20 (NLT)
Especially when you are engaging a courageous conversation or resolving conflict, your words matter even more. Your tone and the kinds of words you use make all the difference in whether we put people on the defensive or we create openness for a meaningful conversation.
Over the years I have learned 3 phrases that I think are helpful when you need to have a courageous conversation.
- “Let me share with you what I am observing”. That statement isn’t accusatory or condemning. I am simply sharing my observations about the situation.
- “Here’s my concern”. You are simply sharing your personal concerns about the situation.
- “Can you help me understand”? This statement acknowledges that you may not have the whole picture. And, it invites the other person’s perspective.
Proverbs 25:15 (NLT) really is a verse about the art of good delivery,
"Patience can persuade a prince, and soft speech can crush strong opposition."
Work at being “soft” in your communication. You can be clear and still be soft.
So, as you engage people this week, be lavish with your words of blessing and affirmation. And, work hard on the art of good delivery. What you say matters but “how” you say it matters just as much.
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Pound for pound, nothing is as powerful as your tongue. As pastors, we count on God to use our tongues as His instrument. In last week’s article, we talked about using our words to bless and speak life into others. This week I want to add 2 additional strategies for the wise use of words.